Race to rescue villagers trapped after deadly landslide

May 25, 2024 10:20 am

[Source: BBC]

Emergency services are racing to rescue victims of a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea’s isolated Enga province, where hundreds of people are feared to have died.

Relief efforts have been hampered by difficult terrain and damage to main roads. Parts of the affected area are only accessible via helicopter.

But a group of rescuers succeeded in reaching the region, humanitarian agency Care Australia said.

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The landslide buried hundreds of homes in the highlands of Enga, in the north of the island nation in the south-west Pacific, at around 03:00 local time on Friday (17:00 GMT on Thursday).

It remained unclear how many people were trapped under the rubble. The UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Papua New Guinea told the BBC that the local emergency response team had so far retrieved three bodies.

It added that the team had also provided emergency medical assistance to six survivors, including one child.

Up to 60 homes were completely destroyed, according to Care Australia. “At present, all the members of these households remain unaccounted for,” it added.

There are nearly 4,000 people living in the area where the landslide occurred. But the agency warned that the number affected was “likely to be higher” because of an influx of people escaping tribal conflicts in neighbouring areas.

It added that other villages could also be at risk “if the landslide continues down the mountain”.
Amos Akem, an Enga province MP, told the Guardian that based on reports from the ground, “the landslide buried more than 300 people and 1,182 houses”.

He said rescue efforts had been hampered by a blocked road connecting the affected Yambali village and the capital.

There is only one highway into Enga Province. The landslide created debris up to 8m deep, affecting more than 200sqkm (77 sq miles) of land “including 150m of the main highway into Enga Province”, Care Australia said.

UN official Serhan Aktoprak told the AP news agency that the area affected by the landslide covered the size of three to four football fields.
Some houses in the village were spared by the landslide, Mr Aktoprak said, but “given the scale of the disaster” the death toll could reach over 100.

The operation to reach those affected had been complicated by fears of further landslides.

“The land continues to slide and move, and that makes it dangerous for people to operate,” Mr Aktoprak told the AFP news agency.

Residents from surrounding areas described trees and debris from a collapsed mountainside burying parts of the community.

Footage from the scene showed locals pulling bodies from beneath rubble.